Matthew Giancarlo

title.none: Gower, Minor Latin Words (Matthew Giancarlo)

identifier.other: baj9928.0610.020 06.10.20

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Matthew Giancarlo, Yale University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Gower, John. Edited by R.F. Yeager and Michael Livingstone. John Gower: The Minor Latin Works and In Priase of Peace. TEAMS (The Consortium for Teaching the Middle Ages) Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2005. Pp. 139. ISBN: $14.00 (pb) 1-58044-097-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.10.20

Gower, John. Edited by R.F. Yeager and Michael Livingstone. John Gower: The Minor Latin Works and In Priase of Peace. TEAMS (The Consortium for Teaching the Middle Ages) Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2005. Pp. 139. ISBN: $14.00 (pb) 1-58044-097-5.

Reviewed by:

Matthew Giancarlo
Yale University

John Gower was renowned in his day and after as an accomplished poet in all three of the primary languages of late medieval England: English, Anglo-French, and Latin. His major works in each of these languages (the Confessio Amantis, Mirour de l'Omme, and Vox Clamantis respectively), which were all definitively edited by G. C. Macaulay at the turn of the twentieth century, are accompanied by a penumbra of shorter works. Following the recent successful publication of the entire Confessio Amantis in three volumes, the TEAMS series now offers this small volume of Gower's complete minor Latin works in new editions and translations by Robert Yeager, along with one short English poem, "In Praise of Peace," edited by Michael Livingston. It effectively completes the translation of all of Gower's Latin works into modern English, joining Eric Stockton's translations of the Vox Clamantis and Cronica Tripertita in The Major Latin Works of John Gower, and Sian Echard and Claire Fanger's annotated translations of The Latin Verses in the Confessio Amantis. These short Latin works, combined with "In Praise of Peace," offer small but revealing glimpses of Gower's characteristic style and concerns. The Latin texts are marred by a handful of misprints and a few errors of translation, but these are not overwhelming. Taken as a whole, and taking into account its helpful apparatus and low cost, this is a valuable addition to the available resources for studying Gower's works and for understanding the troubled period around Richard II's deposition in 1399.

The volume contains fifteen Latin poems, varying in size from the larger Carmen Super Multiplici Viciorum Pestilencia at over three hundred lines to short epigrammatic texts like H. aquile pullus and Orate pro anima, both about four lines. They display an impressive variety of verse forms and styles, often within the same poem. They also reveal his penchant for borrowing and re- working material in the "cento" manner that Yeager has described at length. Gower appropriates lines and passages from Ovid and Peter of Riga's Aurora especially, and also from himself, re-casting prior material from the Vox Clamantis into new contexts--most famously recycling his early praise of Richard II into post- revolutionary accolades for Henry IV in Rex celi deus. All of the poems have a typically Gowerian voice; in parvo they provide the reader with a good sense of his favorite topics, which fall into four overlapping categories: broad social criticism, political commentary, moral exhortation, and love.

The two longest poems, De Lucis Scrutino and Carmen Super Multiplici Viciorum Pestilencia, are echt-Gower compendia of estates' satire and social criticism in the same style as the Mirour de l'Omme and Vox Clamantis. Various groups are criticized in the schemes of social estates and deadly sins. Unsurprisingly the Lollards are given an especially hard time in the Carmen. The advices-to-kings in O deus immense follows a familiar pattern of Fuerstenspiegel nostrums (kings should take good counsel, follow the law, be dutiful and sensible) combined with a uniquely Gowerian stress on the importance of the common voice for the legitimacy of royal rule: nomen regale populi vox dat tibi "the voice of the people gives you the royal title" (61), and later, displicet hic genti qui non placet omnipotenti "he who does not please the Almighty displeases his people" (92). As so often in Gower's works, here the common voice and the voice of God are combined in, and with, the exhortations of the poet's own voice. The "laureate" poems of direct address to Henry following the Lancastrian usurpation (Rex celi deus, O recolende, H. Aquile pullus) show Gower in full propogandist mode but also as a Latinate public poet, as David Carlson has recently argued, in the style of similar contemporary vernacular efforts. Gower's occasionally excessive praise of Henry is tempered with soft warnings: sub Christo gratus vivas tamen inmaculatus "still you must live pleasing to Christ without blemish" (O recolend 9). Other short poems (Presul ouile regis, Cultor in ecclesia) offer sterner admonitions to the clergy.

Perhaps more interesting than the hortatory moral and political poems are the ones revealing what appears to be Gower's personal side. As he did with the manuscripts that preserved them, Gower took pains to cultivate the overall appearance of his self in the poems. The prose Quia unusquisque and the various versions of Quicquid homo scribat show Gower trying to negotiate the representation of his own literary self-image. The amorous and rather humorous Est amor catalogues familiar oxymora of love--love is a warlike peace, unforceful force, ruinous victory, and so on--and then offers a wonderfully parallel comparison of the dual "errors" of public clamor and private amor (magnus in exiguis variatus ut est tibi clamor / fixus in ambiguis motibus errat amor [16-17]), only to end up with Gower admitting his hope and delight at getting married in old age: hinc vetus annorum Gower, sub spe meritorum / ordine sponsorum tutus adhibo thorum "thus I, Gower, old in years, in hope of favor, / safely approach the marriage bed in the order of husbands" (26-27). This is Gower as Chaucer's January, and he seems playfully aware of the irony of his position. When compared to the Ovidian musings on the overwhelming power of sexual love in Ecce patet tensus ("Lo, the taut bow" of blind Cupid), his laments over the war between body and mind emerge as both sober social commentary and humorous personal reflection. Each of these poems, public and personal, thus puts a different but recognizably Gowerian spin on the state of the individual as well as the commonwealth. Overall they speak with the moral and tendentious voice best distilled in Unanimes esse qui secula: God "orders us expressly" (nos iubet expresse [2]) to unity; division destroys love; therefore Diligamus invicem, "Let us love each other" (11) in faith and (marital) unity.

The translations are serviceable and largely accurate, but they labor under the dual burden of frequently difficult verse forms and Gower's occasionally opaque phrasing. While elegant, Gower's Latin is not always clear. As Yeager suggests, the poet's position, speaking on sensitive matters in sensitive times, may account for some of his oracular obscurity (4). I began to suspect that perhaps Gower's command of Latin was to blame as well. One example will stand as representative. These are the opening four lines of O deus immense:

O Deus immense, sub quo dominantur in enseQuidam morosi Reges, quidam viciosi,Disparibus meritis--sic pax, sic motio litis.Publica regnorum manifestant gesta suorum: ...

"O boundless God, under whom rule with the swordSome moral kings, some vicious kings,With diverse merits--now peace, now the agitation of strife--Manifest the public deeds of their kingdoms..."

As it stands in the translation, it is easy to miss the fact that "manifest" has no clear subject. In the Latin text, it is similarly unclear what the plural subject of manifestant is supposed to be. Re-punctuated with a comma (or nothing) instead of a period after motio litis, a plausible reading would make both pax and motio litis the subjects and publica gesta neuter accusative plural: "thus peace, thus the agitation of strife make plain the public deeds of their kingdoms..." This sense isn't great, but neither is the Latin. Passages like this abound, some more felicitously resolved than others. There are occasional errors in the text and, more rarely, mistranslations. For example, on page 37, line 42 of the translation of O deus immense has been lost off the top of the page (plainly a printer's error because the corresponding Latin text is present and the numeration of the lines in the translation remains correct). In the Carmen lines 227 and 230, the Leonine hexameters require the rhymes avaram and avarum, "[cause of] greed" and "miser" respectively, but they have been reversed. The translation has them correct, again indicating a misprint. The short prose text Quia unusquisque has five misspellings in twenty lines. In the Carmen line 22, semina perfidie is translated as "the seeds of faithfulness" (properly "faithlessness"); in line 215, egra "sick, ill" is mistaken for a false friend, "eager." There are a few dropped words and other small problems, as well as a number of translator's choices in phrasing and punctuation with which one could quibble. Nonetheless the translations work, and the texts offer challenging and manageable samples of late medieval Latin that would be good practice for brushing up one's reading skills. In this regard the translations are both a stable guide and an interpretive sounding board. The Introduction is excellent and the Explanatory Notes are superior to Macaulay's, so the texts are amply glossed for both literary and historical investigation.

The English poem "In Praise of Peace" is an appropriate companion to the Latin poems, since it was also composed in the year or so after the revolution. It is Gower's English exhortation to Henry for peace and good rule, similar in both subject and tone to the Latin commendatory verses. For a short text (385 lines in rhyme-royal stanzas) Livingston's apparatus is a bit outsized. The poem is prefaced by a sixteen-page Introduction that is more of an interpretive-argumentative essay. It provides a comprehensive overview, but for students getting oriented to the text it might be a bit much. Similarly, the Explanatory Notes are very chatty (covering another thirteen pages), offering further guided reading as well as glossed explanations. Occasionally these become tangential mini- essays, as in the half-page note to line 267 on the recent history of Ottoman incursions into Europe, a topic nowhere mentioned by Gower. These sometimes make it difficult to extract the most relevant information for reading. The text of the poem is well presented and extensively glossed with variants from Macaulay noted and collated against Thynne's print. These are generally small, mostly one letter or syllable, but sometimes they affect scansion by a foot or so. One unnoted but consistent difference is that where the Trentham manuscript has yoghs which Macaulay printed as semi-vowel y (e.g. "ayein," "yaf," "yive"), Livingston gives (implicit) velar-stop g ("agein," "gaf," "give"). This is certainly easier for students, but perhaps slightly misrepresentative of the southerner Gower, who probably spoke with the former inflection.

On the whole, this is a valuable and commendable (and affordable) volume that all readers of Gower will want to own. Its textual errors, which should be corrected in future printings as well as the TEAMS text website, do not detract from its accessibility and usefulness. While scholarly work will probably still cite Macaulay's editions, this student-friendly edition will open up even more of Gower's poetry to a wider audience for literary and historical study. We can hope for a similar treatment of Gower's minor French works sometime in the near future.

Errata (text checked against Macaulay's edition only): De Lucis Scrutino: p. 12 line 16: invida "hateful" recte "envious". Carmen Super Multiplici Viciorum Pestilencia: p. 18 line 22: perfidie "faithfulness" recte "faithlessness"; p. 18 line 35: palleat "soften" recte "cloak, cover" (var. of palliet); p. 20 line 86: fierei recte fieri; p. 21 line 72: "And" recte "An"; p. 22 line 104: Sic adhibendo moram "By delaying" recte "By taking up residence" (mora "stay, residence" [vid. Latham, Medieval Latin Word-List]); p. 24 line 141: habes "keep" recte "you have"; p. 24 line 147: ibi lost in translation (recte "does not pay its debts there," i.e. in marriage); p. 24 line 152: talia verba lost in translation ("[with] these words"); p. 26 line 215: egra "eager" recte "sick, ill"; p. 28, lines 227 and 230: avarum and avaram, recte avaram and avarum; p. 31 line 307: "At" boldface capital needed in translation. O deus immense: p. 37 line 42: Dummodo creduntur que verba dolosa loquntur [sic Macaulay] translation lost ("when they (?) who speak with deceitful words are believed"); p. 39 line 100: "it, it" misprint in translation. Quia unusquisque: lines 6 and 9: variss recte variis; line 8: libellis recte libelli; line 12: demerites recte demeritis; line 17: distinuit recte distinguit. Explanatory Notes: p. 78, note 4, citation from Cronica 3.352-55, line 352: honore beatus "blessed in honor" lost in translation (this error is from Stockton's translation); p. 80, note 1 ff., Latin marginalia: de primordiis lost in translation (recte "Note on the arrival of a comet in England"). "In Praise of Peace": introductory Leonines, p. 107, line 2: propria regna "special reign" recte "own reign, proper kingdom" in the sense of propria, "possession, property"; cf. "proprite" (Fr. and Anglo- Fr. propret?) at line 326.